Is the following scenario familiar?
Your friend is going through a rough time and you desperately want to help. You recognize something in their hardship similar to something you've gone through. So you say, "You know what you should do…"
Then a week later, you're left wondering why your friend is being so damn stubborn. You told them how to fix their problem! Why haven't they taken your advice?
But what about this scenario:
You're going through a rough time in your life, and desperately need the support of a friend. But when you start talking about your problem, your friend immediately thinks they understand. They offer advice—and keep on offering it—when all you were looking for was support and someone to listen.
You're frustrated. And you don't take their advice because it just isn't what the situation calls for.
Odds are that both these scenarios sound familiar.
In an episode of Happier with Gretchen Rubin hosts Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft give their listeners a challenge: "Only give advice when asked."
"Sometimes when people are complaining or, you know, talking about a problem that they have or a challenge that they're facing, we often perceive it as, 'Oh they want my advice'," Craft explains. "But, in fact they don't want advice. They just want somebody to listen."
Rubin adds that sometimes all a person is looking for is for someone else to share their feelings with. "You can acknowledge how they feel without feeling like you have to ride to the rescue with a bunch of unsolicited advice," she says.
Rubin and Craft suggest making clear signals a part of your conversation style.
Rubin says she will often preface a conversation with her husband or other people in her life by saying, flat-out, "'I am asking you for advice in this situation." Then, she says, "They know that I am telling them something because I'm asking for their advice."
On the flip side, Craft will often preface a conversation with her husband by saying, "I just want you to listen to this"—so that he knows there are expectations around their conversation.
Both hosts remind us of something important, however. If you're not looking for unsolicited advice—or even if you are—don't assume your conversation partner is a mindreader. Ask for what you want.
And if you're on the other side, just try to listen.